Tuesday, October 16, 2012

One Dad's Perspective

Okay, while our presidential candidates are debating, I thought I would link to an article by a former state legislator.  In "How I Helped Create a Flawed Mental Health System That Failed Millions -- and My Son," Paul Gianfriddo talks about his decades-long attempts to help his ill son, a young man who sounds to have mental health and educational needs that couldn't be met by a system with limitations.

Gianfriddo writes:

The 1980s was the decade when many of the state’s large psychiatric hospitals were emptied. We had the right idea. After years of neglect, the hospitals’ programs and buildings were in decay. But we didn’t always understand what we were doing. In my new legislative role, I jumped at the opportunity to move people out of “those places.” Through my subcommittee, I initiated funding for community mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for adults, returned young people from institution-based “special school districts” to schools in their hometowns, and provided for care coordinators to help manage the transition of people back into the community. 

But we legislators in Connecticut and many other states made a series of critical misjudgments that have haunted us all ever since. 

First, we didn’t understand how poorly prepared the public school systems were to educate children with serious mental illnesses in regular schools and classrooms. Second, we didn’t adequately fund community agencies to meet the new demand for community mental health services—ultimately forcing our county jails to fill the void. And third, we didn’t realize how important it would be to create collaborations among educators, primary care clinicians, mental health professionals, social services providers, and even members of the criminal justice system, if people with serious mental illnesses were to have a reasonable chance of living successfully in the community. 

During the twenty-five years since, I’ve experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of these mistakes.

The story about his son is heart-breaking and there is no happy ending.  I'll leave you to read the whole article and see what you think.  And if you'd like to check it out, Mr. Gianfriddo blogs, often about mental health issues, at Our Health Policy Matters.


frenetic said...

In an indirect way, the article reminded me of reading Gordon Smith's ( former Senator from Oregon) bio and the death of his son Garrett to suicide. A year later, George W. signed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial act for suicide prevention and awareness programs at college/universities.

Mental illness truly does not discriminate regardless of position/status in society/ ethnicity etc.

What a perspective ( that comes at a cost) that Gianfriddo has. It was a well written and sad commentary. thanks for sharing!

Jane said...


That article made me sad. I, too, have found public services and other things to help people with mental illnesses to be incredibly ineffective...not to mention school systems. When he brought up the teachers who would insist that his child was having problems because of parenting, being adopted, etc, it was like deja vu. I was also told that I did not have any kind of disability (learning or otherwise) that would prevent me from learning. Even though I am actually very learning disabled and had MDD and ADHD issues. My father and I were told that I had poor work ethic, it was a behavior problem, and I was upset from the death of my mother, etc.

I have an older friend who worked in special education when she was younger and it was astounding to her how bullied special needs kids were. The special education teacher would find learning deficits in the kids and would inform the teachers of the accommodations the kids needed. The teachers would argue that these kids were from foster care, or traumatized, and that they were not learning disabled at all. Some of these kids had been sexually abused or worse, and the teachers would insist it was purely a behavior problem and they would not make any accommodations for the children. They really thought that if they just scolded the kids and taught them a lesson then these kids would learn to "shape up" and succeed in school.

Not long ago, a school psychologist told me that, in his experience, labeling a child "emotionally disturbed" on his IEP was like telling his teachers to do nothing to help him...

In my adult years, I finally decided to try to get some employment counseling for people with disabilities. I can't hold a job worth a darn. So I went to the Dept. of Rehabilitation. I reported a learning disability to them as well as other things. I also reported having graduated from a very well-known, highly competitive university. My rehabilitation counselor became very hostile and demanded to know how I could have graduated from that university with a learning disability. If I had been severely learning disabled then I would have flunked out in the first quarter. She talked about how she works with learning disabled people, and she has done the reading on it, and they do not go to college...She then saw documentation in my file of my being learning disabled....

I sent her an email stating that she was fired and that I have never read any professional journals that indicated people with learning disabilities, even the most severe cases, don't go to college and will flunk out in the first quarter if they do attempt being students in higher education. She then e-mailed me back to say that she didn't really say that (even though she said exactly this: "If you were severely learning disabled, you would have flunked out in the first quarter"). She then fabricated an entire conversation and stated that I had grilled her about learning disabilities and asked her to list all of the symptoms...I wrote back that this conversation never happened (because it didn't) and that making a demand like that would have been really rude given how complex the topic is.

That's where all the tax money goes for special education and vocational rehabilitation...Yikes!!!